Discipline from UI independent of courts

Brian O’Donnell, senior in AHS, was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday after being charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault of a fellow student almost three weeks ago. But even if the verdict returns not guilty, the outcome may not affect any punishment from the University.

While Brian Farber, associate dean and director for the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, would not comment on O’Donnell’s case, he said the results of a criminal case do not correlate with disciplinary decisions made by the University.

“The criminal system and the student disciplinary system are completely independent processes with different goals, different procedures and different standards of proof,” Farber said.

O’Donnell and his personal assistant, Thomas Roman Jr., were both charged the morning of Aug. 31 with sexual assault after Roman helped O’Donnell, who uses a wheelchair, commit the assault, University Police Capt. Roy Acree said.

Thomas Betz, directing attorney at Student Legal Services highlighted the difference between the criminal and student disciplinary processes. He said that the administrative system at the University and the U.S. court system are “very separate systems.”

“There isn’t a presumption of innocence (with the University) because it’s not a procedure in which they are determining moral guilt in the legal sense,” Betz said. “They are simply determining whether or not the terms and conditions of the code of conduct were violated, and it does not require overwhelming evidence.”

Committing sexual assault violates the Student Code’s standards regarding sexual misconduct. And if found in violation of any portion of the code, a student may suffer a variety of repercussions, including possible dismissal from the University.

“If the University (finds you in) possible violation of the code, you are given notice,” said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler. “At that point, you can come in and talk to the University and try to explain the situation if you think there are mitigating circumstances.”

An undergraduate student conduct subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Student Discipline will then listen and make a decision regarding each case, Kaler said. The subcommittee is composed of both faculty and student members.

Farber said that the subcommittee makes decisions “based on all of the facts and circumstances of each case.”

According to the 2011 annual report for SCSD, the committee met 14 times in the last fiscal year. In total, 2,033 discipline cases were evaluated, 15 of which revolved around sexual misconduct. Of those 2,033 cases, 44 resulted in a student’s dismissal from the University.

Although Farber could not confirm that O’Donnell or Roman will go through this disciplinary process, he said the vast majority of respondents, or those found in violation of the Student Code, will go before the subcommittee. He said that after the final ruling, students can potentially petition to be readmitted at a later time.

“The petition committee will determine whether or not the petitioner will be readmitted and under what conditions or restrictions if they are,” Farber said.

These conditions can range from required substance-abuse counseling, appropriate- and healthy-relationships workshops, service to the community, research, and reflective essays on the impact of assault on the victim and the community, Farber said.

Betz said that the attorneys at legal services represent students in a court setting if they are charged with misdemeanor crimes, such as a traffic violation, but not a felony. However, legal services will not represent the student in front of the University subcommittee.

“In the administrative process at the University, we will advise students, ‘This is what the process is.’ We will tell them, ‘This is what the code says, this is what the code means, and this is what your hearing will look like,’” he said.

Betz said this type of separation between legal verdicts and campus decisions is not uncommon.

“That is not just this campus,” he said. “That is universal on campuses that have judicial operations.”

Emma can be reached at [email protected]